Five at Piedmont Correctional prison test positive for COVID-19 after mass testing

Published 8:19 pm Thursday, July 9, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

SALISBURY — As mass testing concluded this week at Piedmont Correctional Institute, five offenders tested positive out of the 645 who are housed at the Salisbury facility, said John Bull, a spokesman with the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

State prison officials initiated a plan in mid-June to test all 31,500 offenders for COVID-19. The testing plan was estimated to require at least 60 days to complete, at a projected cost of more than $3.3 million.

Mass testing so far has been completed at 13 of the state’s 54 prisons, with mass testing completed at the Salisbury prison Tuesday. Testing of the populations in five other prisons is expected to be completed by the end of this weekend. The entire offender population is expected to have been tested by the end of August, Bull said.

The five who tested positive at Piedmont Correctional are in medical isolation for any necessary advanced medical treatment. The tests were analyzed by LabCorp, with the results transmitted directly into the Division of Prisons’ medical database.

Protocol is that any offender who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms is removed from the offender population, placed in medical isolation to better ensure he or she doesn’t spread the virus to those who may not have the virus, Bull said.

A COVID-19 test is promptly administered. The housing unit where the COVID-19 positive offender was housed is placed under medical quarantine for close observation and receives temperature checks twice a day, contact tracing is conducted and offenders who may have had unprotected exposure are tested for COVID-19. All offenders who test positive are medically isolated from the offender population.

The procedures in place for the administration of tests and quarantine protocols are by guidance from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been five confirmed COVID-19-related deaths in three of the state’s prisons — Neuse Correctional, Pender Correctional and the North Carolina Correctional Institutional for Women, located in Raleigh.

Bull said the Division of Prisons has taken more than four dozen actions to help prevent the emergence of COVID-19 into the prison system and, if the coronavirus gets in, staff work to contain it within individual prison facilities and to keep it from spreading elsewhere.

One of the actions included making COVID-19 testing available to more than 21,000 employees in the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, which includes the Division of Prisons.

Earlier this year one inmate at the Rowan County Detention Center testing positive for COVID-19 and the facility has seen no other positive cases, according to Capt. Greg Hannold.

“We have had several who screened into the ‘potential’ category. Those individuals were quarantined until nursing staff could safely say they were not COVID-19 positive,” Hannold said.